Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Continually Observed RC Internet Apologist Behavior

Roman Catholicism is something that every Christian must face at some time or another in his life. If you're not RC, you see an organization with great visible power, influence, wealth, and extremely strong claims regarding its own history and connection to reality. When confronted with such claims, how can an honest viewer not wonder if his small Evangelical or Protestant body has missed the boat?

I find for myself that although I believe the classical Protestant position to be the strongest position by far, I still think about RCism and the particular claims. As of late, I've been following the RC interent apologetics and the counter-Protestant polemics put forth by such people as Dave Armstrong and CAI among other things.

Here are some behaviors I've noticed:

(1) RC internet apologists seem to be much more conservative or traditional [I'm not using these terms in a technical sense] than the professors and teachers within the RC Church. The RC's I know, however much they hold to their views of Tradition, still hold to a high view of sacred scripture. Yet, I can read materials in books with the imprimatur and nihil obstat that undercut the allegedly scriptural arguments made by RC apologists. It is at this time that the internet RC apologists say that such-and-such author is not a real RC, or that he is liberal and not to be taken seriously, etc. This is accompanied with being told that one doesn't understand RCism or that one is out of one's league, and thus one had best take his ball and go home. But then I have to decide between (a) a self-appointed internet apologist who has no official standing with Rome and (b) somebody how has an official standing with Rome. Why should I choose the self-appointed internet apologist? This seems rather arrogant coming from somebody who upholds a formal hierarchical Church structure.

One answer could be that the self-appointed internet RC apologist is correct, whereas the more liberal scholar or teacher is not. Well, a Protestant can appreciate that, given the great amount of inanity spouted by seminary professors on our side. But, from the RC view, this is not acceptable, for Rome's epistemic claims of authority do not find their locus in the laity, but in the magisterium and in those appointed by the magisterium.

It seems, therefore, that internet lay-apologetics of the RC flavor claims an authority that would exist solely for those officially put forth by the magisterium.

(2) Sort of in conjunction with (1), there is this refrain of You just don't get it when RC documents are cited. I've read a fair portion of the CCC [by Hardon], and I have read some RC documents as well. I don't see any prior comprehension advantage that an internet RC apologist has over somebody who knows how to read and learn about the historical situation relative to the document.
This is the sort of behavior I've observed with Mormons when Biblically refuted. It is also the sort of behavior I've gotten when discussing basic points of Christianity with liberals such as Episcopalians and Methodists. It's a real turnoff as far as discussion. I've read and written things at the highest levels in academia, both in terms of textbooks and journals. For myself, I know what a document says, and it is rather condescending to be told that I just don't get it as if that is an actual form of argumentation.

(3) There is a split personality behavior with RC apologetics. Namely, while many of them are conservative or traditional, they behave like rationalistic higher critics
when confronted with seemingly strong evidence that some historical or epistemic claims of Rome are not well-supported.

(i) When, for example, confronted with Tridentine documents, which documents should scandalize the post Vatican II crowd, we're told that we have to understand the historical situation that promoted such polemics. In other words, the history is in practice supposed to shape the document. And, to an effect, there is no problem inherent with this. However, instead of letting history be understood by the document, the document is explained away by making it wholly subservient to historical factors. This isn't too different than when one is told by those in higher criticism that the developments of the Christian communities of the early centuries are what shaped the texts, rather than observing correctly that the texts are what shaped the communities. In summary, Roman Catholic apologists behave in a functional sense like the higher critics they deplore and deny, even if these higher critics have the nihil obstat and imprimatur in their work.

(ii) At Steve Hays' most excellent Triablogue, we see the behavior in (i) exemplified by a poster with the handle of Frogg. What seem to be clear discrepancies are explained away with the same sort of techniques used by higher critics, which techniques would be spoken against if they were applied to various RC claims. Other examples of this can be given, but I wish not to be too repetitive.

(4) The following is also continually observed: the continued eisegesis of Biblical texts. Instead of letting theology be guided by the text, the text is shaped by the theology.

(i) We all know the text You are Peter, and on this rock....."
This text is viewed in two main ways by RC apologists: (a) as a prooftext for the modern papacy, or, more responsibly, (b) the "seed" from which the doctrine of the papacy would later develop.

Now this Protestant has no problem with Peter being the rock. In fact, it does seem that Jesus is calling Peter the rock. Yet can one really expect somebody who approaches this text without any papist baggage or anti-papist baggage to see (a) this as a prooftext for the modern papacy? Can one really expect somebody within reason to even see this in light of (b) above, especially since apostolic succession is not a clearly defined doctrine in the NT writings?

(ii) The reader is presumably familiar with the entire Seat of Moses argumentation, which has been repeatedly treated elsewhere by more capable Protestants.

(iii) The reader is presumably familiar with the appeal of Mary's being "full of grace" to argue for an Immaculate Conception. I've read the Greek arguments and find them completely baseless. [The PP has very good utility with NT Greek, and, more importantly, he knows how to evalute arguments independently.] I personally have no dog in the Mary fight. If she is what the RCC claims, then may God show me this truth; If not, may God keep me from that heresy. I just note that questionable metaphysics and a grasping-at-straws attempt at exegesis is used to justify such a claim. The actual plain sense of the text and the standard rules of historical-grammatical exegesis are merely pushed aside as the exigencies of the situation arise.

These are but three examples briefly given.

(5) The distinction between historical questions and questions of authority are continually blurred.

(i) Appeal to the Early Church Fathers [ECF's] is perfectly reasonable for things such as the following:

(a) Whether one's interpretation is a complete modern novelty or not,
(b) Asking whether a certain school of theologians held such a view, or
(c) Checking out the particulars of a historical question, such as "What did St Augustine say about X?"

(ii) However, Protestants such as the PP are under no obligation to view any ECF, no matter how highly held, with the same respect and authority as are the canonical NT writings. For example:

(a) When Father X says Y, I'm under no obligation to hold Y or even view X as authoritative. I may agree with Y and/or I may have a fondness or appreciation of X, but my holding of Y comes evidentially, and not from a blanket acceptance of X as authoritative.

The application is this: the RC apologist presents some text that, say, proclaims a primacy for the Bishop of Rome. This text may in fact be perfectly clear --- it says what it says. The response, and the sole proper one, I believe, is this: So what? Give me evidence that this ECF is supposed to enjoy such blanket authority --- don't just quote him as if he's the final word.

(b) When ECF A says X, ECF B says Y, and ECF C says Z, where A, B, and C are distinct ECF's, the attitude seems to be that the RCC held X, Y, and Z without reservation. I've read enough ECF's [and have forgotten my share too, to be sure] to know of the great theological diversity in their writings. It seems to be petitioning the principle to pick one father over another in terms of giving one father precedence over another. The appeal to councils and such suffers from the same sort of lack of grounding. So what that Ecumenical Council X says Y?

This isn't to take a disrespectful view towards ECF's and Councils, but appeals to them as authoritative must be buttressed by arguments that support their authority. This is not something that I have seen from RC apologists.

(c) Now to be sure, some ECF's sure sound like they'd be sympathetic to the entire RC thrust, but at the same time some ECF's sure don't. The ECF's who sound sympathetic don't really bother me, and the ECF's are aren't don't put any bounce in my step either. Either way, the argument that I should take them authoritatively in matters of doctrine and such is missing.

(d) There is also the retreat into the You don't get it line of rebuttal when it is pointed out that an ECF says something that is not sympathetic with the RC program. If a Protestant can't read something like the ECF's, why did the RC apologist debate in the first place? Reading documents is not difficult.

(6) The Roman system, as set up, seems unfalsifiable.

(a) If I point out that a Brown or Fitzmeyer says something that seriously strikes at the heart of historic Christianity, I am told that these people got through the system somehow or that they don't speak for Rome. Yet these people have official magisterial positions. The internet apologist sets himself up in defiance of the magisterium here, arrogantly stating that somebody within the magisterium does not speak for Rome.

(b) Any sort of bad behavior by Rome is excused with the "bad apples" line of argumentation. A heretical priest is not an argument against the magisterium; the bishop just isn't doing his job. A bishop who acts heretically or criminally is not an argument against the Roman view of the magisterium; the archbishop just isn't doing his job. A document that says something too liberal for the conservative internet RC apologist isn't authoritative; here's another document that says what we like. When a Pope in the past says X and a modern Pope says the negation of X, this is not a contradiction; this illustrates the development of doctrine or the living tradition.

I suppose this is what somebody who is in the RC box must say. The claims of Rome are so strong that Rome sets itself up quite easily for such attacks.

(c) I note that the situation isn't symmetric for a Protestant. We don't make such strong claims. I'm free to disagree with, say, the Formula of Concord, or, say, the Westminster Confession of Faith, if I think that it violates the plain readings of scripture.

(d) What Protestants call doctrinal accretions or even contradictions are embraced as proof of the Church's authority as well as a demonstration of the Church's living tradition. Such things when pointed out only serve a confirmatory purpose for those who have partaken of RCism, yet such an argument is advanced as if it will have any meaning to Protestants.

This list, incomplete and with overlapping categories, is what the PP has seen in his forays as of late into RC internet apologetical turf. This post is not to be taken in the sense that Protestant apolgetics is error free, but, I don't go reading Protestant apologetics sites either, as the PP usually is able to research on his own and independently evaluate arguments with full confidence.


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